Shame is a Potentially Dangerous Emotion

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Shame has a bad reputation, but sometimes a sense of shame is a good thing. It alerts us to weaknesses, that we didn’t do what we were obligated to do or that we didn’t think in the most clear-headed fashion. Keeping promises and confidences is how we prove that we’re trustworthy. Honoring someone’s anniversary, birthday, efforts, or their commitment to a goal or ideal, is a sign of fine character. When we don’t take those or other mature actions we prove that we’re acting immaturely. The shame in our failure to have a finer character can motivate us to do better from now on, starting NOW. But when a sense of shame leaves a person feeling worthless, humiliated, or negative in some other way, then shame has become a potentially dangerous emotion. It is destructive to psychological health.

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Overbearing parents who micro-manage the lives of their children cause the kids – of any age – to feel that they’re somehow deficient, bad, or wrong and that they should be ashamed of themselves. But the blame isn’t necessarily deserved. Sometimes the parent is wrong, not the offspring whom they blame. The downward spiral that follows follows the confusion between shaming/blaming and a positive self- image. A genuinely innocent person who behaves decently can be easily victimized, manipulated, and undeservedly sorry for things for which they aren’t guilty, due to the shamer-blamer’s inappropriate emotional pressure. The misery can lead to a lifetime of sadness that needn’t have happened. By the way, teachers can inflict a sense of undeserved shame in students. Bosses can do it to employees. Suicide or substance abuse can seem to be a tempting solution to the problem. Perfectionism can be another poor response to the emotional distress of shaming. The same life lessons apply in every case, though: Humans tend to think negatively, and the reasons about why that’s so could fill another article. Let the shamer-blamers go from your conscience. They’re not using acceptable social skills. Yes, they ought to be ashamed of themselves, not you!

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As we go through life we learn various coping skills. They include seeing a situation for what it is: a set of neutral facts. It is only our evaluation of those neutral facts that causes positive or negative emotions. The best defense to feeling ashamed of something you did or didn’t do is to take pride in your efforts, intentions, and accomplishments. All you need to focus on is this: Your self-assessment matters. Your sense of self-respect and your pride in your efforts are essential to your emotional well-being. Some shamers are jealous of you, so they try to leave you feeling miserable. Some shamers mistakenly believe that life is about beating everyone else to some goal or other. Some shamers believe that their behavior makes people cooperative. None of that is emotionally healthy. Leave the shamers behind you. Forge on with your clean conscience. Spend time with people who appreciate you.

Yocheved Golani is a popular writer whose byline has appeared worldwide in print and online. A certified Health Information Management professional, she is a member of Get Help Israel. Certified in Spiritual Chaplaincy (End of Life issues) and in counseling skills, her life coaching for ill people puts a healthy perspective into a clients’ success plan for achieving desired goals.